Nap lengths can vary greatly in first year of your baby’s life. Babies under 4 months will of then thrive nicely on short naps, however as a child gets older longer naps are more important for a restorative sleep. The key is to keep your baby from getting overtired.
Yes it would be great if your baby had 1.5-2 hour naps, however this is not always possible. A baby’s sleep cycle is somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes long. When your baby wakes up after a complete sleep cycle it may be hard for him to fall back to sleep right away because he may be well rested.
If your baby sleeps for 45 minutes or more he will likely be able to stay awake for his whole wakeful window. It can be challenging to try to get some babies back to sleep if they had a restorative sleep. You can see the wakeful window averages chart below, but for most babies under 6 months they will be able to stay awake for 1-2 hours at a time. It is important that babies are not awake for too long so they don’t get overtired, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep for the next time.
If your baby sleeps less than 45 minutes, it is often worth trying to get him back to sleep for 5-10 minute try. If that doesn’t work, then get your baby up and watch him so you can put him down when he shows tired signs. This may be less than 1 hour if he only had a shorter nap.
Younger babies will often consistently have shorter naps in the daytime. 20 or 30 minutes is not uncommon. These babies will need more naps in the daytime, and it can be challenging for families to schedule around them. Sometimes we can lengthen at least a few naps in the day, which can help. If your baby has reflux, short naps can be common and may not lengthen until the reflux is under control or your baby is older.
Focus on keeping your baby well rested
The most important thing to keep in mind about daytime sleep is that we don’t want babies staying awake too long and getting overtired. Which can impact baby’s ability to fall asleep and sleep quality and length both in the day and the night. So if your baby is consistently taking short naps then you will find that he may need more naps in the day, often as many as 4-7 naps. If your baby is sleeping for longer periods of time, you will likely still find that he only needs 3-4 naps a day under 6 months old.
There are several approaches you can take to try to extend naps.
Nap Shaping for under 6 months of age
Whatever you choose, at this younger age we want to avoid crying or crying for more than 5 minutes.
You can simply try to catch your baby as soon as he wakes or starts to wake and try to comfort him back to sleep. This may involve: shushing, patting, or even picking him up and feeding him back to sleep. If your baby wakes consistently after 20 or 30 minutes, you might want to set your alarm and go in just before that time so you can encourage him to fall back to sleep before he fully wakes, which will be easier. Whatever you do, if it is not working after 5-10 minutes or your baby is crying, then end the nap and try again when you see tired signs.
Many families will find that babies will nap well in a vibrating chair, swing, infant carrier or while laying on a flat safe surface beside Mom or Dad. If this is the case then you might want to try this either for 1 or 2 naps, or for all of them if it works for you and it’s safe. You don’t need to worry about creating negative sleep associations at this young age, however you may want to try to have your baby nap in his bed once a day as this need may change over time.
You may find that you can lengthen out short naps with a bit of work, however if you can’t at this time, you will likely be able to as your baby gets older. Babies under 3 months especially can often thrive quite nicely on short power naps and it is often their parents that have a more challenging time.
Nap shaping for babies over 6 months of age
The skills to sleep in the daytime consistently develop around 6 months of age. Prior to that you may find that your baby will be able to fall asleep and nap well on one day but the very next day seem to have lost this ability. Younger babies often need extra support to encourage naps.
Naps are usually more challenging than night sleep and the sleep skills are easier to learn at bedtime. This means that it will be easier for your baby to learn to sleep at bedtime and in the night first and then learn to apply those skills in the day. We often see that babies who start sleeping well at night will automatically start napping well too. This may happen for just the morning nap or the afternoon nap too. For this reason, we recommend focusing on night sleep first in most cases.
Nap coaching is often challenging and can be very confusing. Even many professionals will avoid nap coaching or be very vague in discussing it. A good nap coaching plan is vital when working on naps and it should be different than night coaching. It’s important to set limits on the coaching so you are not trying all day to get your child to sleep and to have a backup strategy so the nap coaching does not interfere with your night sleep. Your nap plan should include a technique for coaching your baby to sleep and back to sleep. We use methods that are very supportive for this process.
The best resources for naps that we are aware of is Kim West’s book “Good Night Sleep Tight.”
When nap coaching it is also important to understand that unlike night coaching, nap coaching progress is usually not linear. It can often feel like two steps forward, one step back however, within the first 5 days you should see several successful naps. The process of nap coaching will often take about 2 weeks before your child is napping consistently.
Our sleep coaches are trained by Kim West directly and we have successfully helped more than 5000 families through the napping process.
Feel free to contact us if you need some help with naps. A 15 minute mini-consult may be all that you need for success.
Understanding wakeful windows and keeping your child from getting overtired
This is a key principle in helping her get better sleep. Most children have a maximum length of time they are able to be awake for before they get over tired. Becoming over-tired causes the body to release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that may give your child a second wind.
Being overtired during the day can also fragment sleep cycles at night and cause your child to wake too early. To avoid her becoming overtired, it is important to watch for tired signs and put her down to sleep around the time you see yawning, eye rubbing, or general crabbiness. You may find that doing so is even too late, in which case you need to watch for earlier sleepy signs (or watch the clock).